By Nandita Bose
WASHINGTON – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will meet world leaders including Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Munich this week, her highest-profile foreign trip yet, as the Biden administration tries to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Senior U.S. officials said on Wednesday they suspect Russia has increased its already heavy presence on the Ukraine border by up to 7,000 troops in the last few days, and they did not believe Russia’s assertion it is withdrawing troops.
Harris will arrive at the Munich Security Conference on Friday. She also plans to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the officials said.
During her trip, a diplomatic test of her vice presidency, Harris will discuss a “path to de-escalation” in the Ukraine crisis, the officials said.
She will also discuss economic measures that would be deployed in the event of an invasion as well as America’s readiness to further reinforce NATO allies on its eastern flank.
“She is not going with any deliverables per se because the key objective for her trip now is to focus on this fast-changing, evolving situation, the tremendous challenge that we are facing now,” one of the officials said.
The Munich conference, launched by Western nations at the height of the Cold War to address military conflicts, takes place on Feb. 18-20.
The U.S. officials did not say what contingency plans are in place should an invasion of Ukraine occur while Harris is overseas. “We are in a fluid situation,” one said.
White House officials say President Joe Biden’s decision to send Harris to the Munich conference amid the tension over Ukraine demonstrates his confidence in her.
Harris has also sought to burnish her foreign policy credentials on previous trips to meet leaders in Central America, Asia and Europe.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington, Editing by Kieran Murray)